14.08.1944 728th Bomber Squadron B-17G 42-97852, F/O William J. Stiles
Operation: Ludwigshafen and Mannheim, Germany
Date: 14th August 1944 (Monday)
Unit: 728th Bomber Squadron (452nd Bombardment Group (H))
Serial No: 42-97852
Location: 12 miles SW of Le Mans, France
Base: Deopham Green, Norfolk, England
Pilot: F/O William J. Stiles T1746 AAF Age? Returned
Co Pilot: F/O Joseph Lojewski T61949 AAF Age? PoW. Unknown Camp
Navigator: 2nd.Lt. John J.P. Madeira O717351 AAF Age? Returned
Bombardier: 2nd.Lt. Charles H. Keck Jr. O704216 AAF Age? Returned
Radio/Op: S/Sgt. Arthur Leopold Varricchio 32874296 AAF Age? PoW *
Engineer: T/Sgt. Thomas J. Walker 19028549 AAF Age? Survived (1)
Ball Turret: S/Sgt. Hubert Putnam Campney 17112449 AAF Age 22. PoW *
Right Waist: -
Left Waist: S/Sgt. Ralph William Monteil 37507384 AAF Age? PoW *
Tail: S/Sgt. Lester William Gaulin 32941809 AAF Age? PoW *
* Stalag Luft 4 Gross-Tychow, Pomerania, Prussia now Poland (Moved from Stalag Luft 6 Heydekrug. Moved to Wöbbelin near Ludwigslust and then to Usedom near Swinemünde)
One of the two Waist Gunners were removed from crew complements starting on the 7th June 1944 and then both from the 23rd February 1945
F/O Stiles crew photograph taken in January 1944 (credit American Air Museum)
Back L to R: Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, S/Sgt. Campney, Unknown, Unknown; Front L to R: Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown.
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the morning of the 14th August 1944 B-17G 42-97852 took off from Deopham Green to bomb targets at Ludwigshafen and Mannheim, Germany.
During the bomb run 42-97852 was struck by flak which severed the aileron and rudder controls throwing the aircraft out of control but F/O Stiles managed to regain control of the disabled aircraft. He ordered the crew to be prepared to bail out in the event the aircraft became uncontrollable. At around 1330 hours while executing a turn the aircraft departed controlled flight and six of the crew bailed out at 26,000 feet over the Strasbourg area.
Again F/O Stiles managed to regain control of the aircraft and continued to head westwards until the aircraft ran out of fuel. The remaining three crew bailed out about 2 miles SW of Le Mans in France which was within Allied lines. F/O Stiles, 2nd.Lt. Madeira and 2nd.Lt. Keck Jr. were safely returned to their base at Deopham Green.
German documents record that F/O Lojewski, S/Sgt. Monteil, S/Sgt. Varricchio and S/Sgt. Campney were captured at about 1400 hours near the Strasbourg-Entzheim airfield, which was some 5 miles WSW of Strasbourg and next to the village of Entzheim. The four airmen and S/Sgt. Gaulin were transported to Dulag Luft Oberursel near Frankfurt before being incarcerated as PoWs.
(1) No official documents have been found that provide information on the fate of T/Sgt. Thomas J. Walker after he bailed out of the aircraft with his fellow crew members.
After France was liberated, the fate of an American airman who had parachuted from a disabled aircraft on the 14th August 1944 in the Strasbourg area was investigated by the US authorities. The outcome of the investigation resulted in a General Military Government Court being convened at Dachau, Germany on the 28th May 1947.
The court charged Otto Friederich Isenmann and Karl Josef Rebel both German nationals, that they did, at or near Wolfisheim in France, on or about the 15th August 1944, deliberately and wrongfully encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing of an unknown member of the United States Army, who was then and there a surrendered and unarmed PoW in the custody of the then German Reich.
The location and timing of this murder makes it possible that this case relates to T/Sgt. Thomas J. Walker.
The court heard that on the 14th August 1944 an American airman parachuted from a disabled plane near Kolbsheim in France and was given shelter by a French family. On that evening Isenmann, a Gendarmerie Captain and the leader of the Gendarmerie for Kreis (district) Strasbourg and Rebel, a Gendarmerie Lieutenant and the leader of the Gendarmerie for Kreis Wolfisheim were notified of the airman’s whereabouts. Isenmann, Rebel and a third individual named Huebler went to the French home and arrested the airman. Here, Rebel without provocation, assaulted the airman whilst taking him into custody.
The court also heard that Isenmann had been previously notified by his superiors that captured enemy airmen should be handed over to the Gestapo or the SS (Schutzstaffel), who would then arrange to have the airmen killed. Huebler and Rebel, under orders from Isenmann walked the airman towards Wolfisheim. Rebel was ordered by Isenmann to hand over the airmen to the Gestapo if they encountered him and the airman whilst they were en route to Wolfisheim.
Isenmann notified the authorities in Strasbourg of the captured airman and of the route they were taking to Wolfisheim. Isenmann then collected his car and picked up Huebler, Rebel and the airman and drove them to Wolfisheim where the airman was held under guard at the Gendarmerie building.
Early the next morning at about 0200 hours Isenmann was notified of the arrival of people from Strasbourg. When he arrived at the Gendarmerie building he saw a number of men in civilian clothing and one in uniform. The airman was handed over to them by Isenmann after which they left with the airman in custody. Later that morning Rebel was informed that someone had been killed in a wooded area about 1½ miles from Wolfisheim. Upon arriving at the location he discovered the body of the airman.
The court rejected the defense of Isenmann and Rebel that they were not aware that handing over the airman to the Gestapo or the SS would result in his death. They were both found guilty of the charge. Isenmann was initially sentenced to life imprisonment, which was reduced to 20 years and was subsequently paroled in March 1954. Rebel was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment commencing on the 10th May 1946 and was paroled in September 1951.
No evidence has been found that the actual killers were identified, arrested or held to account for the murder of T/Sgt. Thomas J. Walker.
The location of T/Sgt. Thomas J. Walker’s grave remains unknown and he is listed as Missing in Action by the Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
T/Sgt. Thomas J. Walker. Air Medal (Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart. Remembered on the Tablets of the Missing, Epinal American Cemetery, Dinozé, France. Born during 1916 in California. Husband to Opal Mae (née Smith) Walker and father to Randall Thomas Walker of Delano, California, USA.
(Credit: Roland Hall & FindAGrave)
Researched by Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Traugott Vitz for his work on the ‘VitzArchive’ and for his valued research and advice in compiling this report.